Normal sweating, or perspiration, is something all humans do to regulate their core body temperatures. Another word that means 'to sweat' is hydrosis, and when we join that word with the prefix 'hyper' which means doing anything to excess, excessively, or above normal, we get the combined word hyperhidrosis.
Hyperhidrosis, spelled phonetically as hi-pur-hi-DROE-sis, is excessive sweating, and affects 1%-3% of the population. Normal sweating occurs naturally when we exercise or our bodies are heated, and that same normal sweating cools us off. But, excessive sweating is abnormal, if not necessarily related to heat or exercise, and can be embarrassing and unhelpful. The mechanism of sweating is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system which manages our bodies' reactions to stress, fight-or-flight reflexes, and similar emergencies. Our sympathetic nervous system uses the chemical acetylcholine to activate the sweat glands, and people with hyperhidrosis are especially sensitive to this chemical signal, making them produce several times more sweat than normal. Hyperhidrosis can seem to run in families, but the medical community continues to research the underlying causes of hyperhidrosis. Many people with hyperhidrosis can have lowered self-esteem because the effects of the abnormal sweating can cause anxiety, hinder daily activities, stain clothes, impact social interactions, and negatively affect the overall quality of a person's life. This article will explain hyperhidrosis below in greater detail, but a broad list of different ways that medical doctors describe the skin disease by differing types are:
- Primary hyperhidrosis: In medical terms, doctors use the word 'primary' to mean something caused by your body itself, or not caused by something external to your body. Primary hyperhidrosis is the general way to describe excessive sweating caused by something internal to the sweating process in our bodies, or the sweating itself, and not some other reason such as an underlying medical condition like an infection, or an outside variable like a medication causing a side effect of sweating.
- Secondary hyperhidrosis: In medical terms, doctors conversely use 'secondary' to describe a cause due to some other variable. In hyperhidrosis, this could be due to a side effect from a medication, or overheating from wearing too many layers, or more importantly a symptom of a more serious medical condition like a tumor, or an infection. To properly evaluate and treat for secondary excessive sweating, a doctor often first determines what (if any) underlying medical condition or medication may be the root of the problem, because the doctor wouldn't want to treat the hyperhidrosis while also masking or hiding the underlying condition.
- Focal hyperhidrosis: This primary type of hyperhidrosis occurs only in concentrated areas of the body, such as the face, palms of the hands, soles of the feet, groin or armpits. Typically, this type of sweating occurs on both sides of the body, meaning both hands, or both feet, or under both arms at the same time.
- Generalized hyperhidrosis: This secondary type of hyperhidrosis almost always relates to secondary causes of the excessive sweating, meaning from a side effect of a medication, such as medicines for dry mouth, or antidepressants. Usually, the sweating occurs all over the body, and can include sweating while sleeping.
- Palmar hyperhidrosis: Specifically, focal hyperhidrosis of the palms of the hands. Many studies have been conducted on the emotional as well as physical impact of this particular type of hyperhidrosis on the patient's life, especially socially.
- Plantar hyperhidrosis: Specifically, focal hyperhidrosis of the soles of the feet.
- Nocturnal hyperhidrosis: Most everyone has heard of 'night sweats' in their lifetime, either because they've experienced sweating at night firsthand, or heard someone else talking about night sweats. This sweating while sleeping is very common as part of a woman's menopausal years as shifts in hormones occur, but it's separately very important to distinguish the main cause of sweating at night from the environment. In other words, are you too hot from the blankets, room air, or general room temperature, or are you sweating at night due to something internal to your body, such as a fever breaking, or your body fighting an infection. Always seek the opinion of a medical doctor if you are experiencing unexplained night sweats
- Excessive sweating doesn’t have to be inevitable, and the skin doctors at SkyMD can help. Our dermatologists (skin doctors) can see you now, evaluate your excessive sweating, and create a treatment plan that fits your individual situation. Treatments can vary, and each patient should be individually evaluated. Common treatments are:
- Use stronger, prescription-strength antiperspirants, that may work at controlling your sweating better than the typical store-bought antiperspirants, or
- Use of one of several medical devices are on the market, such as home-use iontophoresis machines, a technology that combines with tap water to direct a small current through the skin, effectively neutralizing the connection between the nerves and the sweat glands, and
- In extreme cases, a doctor may even recommend surgery to either disconnect the nerves causing the overproduction of the excessive sweating or the removal of the sweat glands themselves.
- In all cases, a patient should never treat hyperhidrosis without the professional opinion of a medical doctor. Please read below for more details on hyperhidrosis symptoms, causes, treatments, and potential prevention.